Dr Firdausi’s study helped lead to a complete change in thinking about how the world could tackle the challenge of cholera
American philanthropist Bill Gates has called Bangladeshi scientist Dr Firdausi Qadri a hero in the field and the fight against the world’s longest-running pandemic—cholera.
In a YouTube video and a blog post on October 6, the Microsoft cofounder said: “For the last 25 years, Dr Qadri has been one of the few people advocating for an affordable vaccine to protect entire communities from cholera epidemics.”
While all of us are focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget about the world’s longest-running pandemic—cholera, Bill Gates wrote in the blog in his official site Gatesnote.
Over the last 200 years the deadly diarrheal disease, which thrives in areas without safe water and sanitation, has killed millions of people.
The current cholera pandemic—the world’s seventh—started in 1961, spreading from South Asia to Africa and the Americas. Every year, cholera outbreaks around the globe affect about four million people and lead to as many as 130,000 deaths.
An affordable, effective, and safe oral cholera vaccine, however, is proving to be a game changer in the fight against this often-forgotten disease.
The number of cholera cases decreased globally by 60% in 2018, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Though 2019 saw an increase in cases, the total number of cholera deaths fell by 36%.
This breakthrough has been the life’s work of Dr Firdausi Qadri.
Oral cholera vaccine
In 2011, Dr Firdausi and her team at the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease and Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) led a feasibility study on a newer, more affordable oral cholera vaccine, Shanchol.
The study, which was done in partnership with Bill Gates’s foundation, showed that the inexpensive vaccine could be an effective tool in stopping the spread of cholera in poor, urban environments, giving people more than 50% protection against the disease.
Dr Firdausi’s study—the largest trial of its kind—helped lead to a complete change in thinking about how the world could tackle the challenge of cholera.
“You can have very good water, sanitation, education, good homes and people will not have cholera. But until that happens, you need to stop the misery. You need to control the disease,” Dr Firdausi said. “And the vaccine is a one-stop solution.”
In 2013, the WHO helped create an oral cholera vaccine stockpile, to contain and prevent outbreaks. Since then, more than 60 million doses have been shipped worldwide.
In Bangladesh, the arrival in 2017 of nearly one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar into overcrowded camps raised concerns about a cholera epidemic. Working with the government, Dr Firdausi led a vaccination program that has helped prevent an outbreak.
“If this vaccination was not carried out, there would be chaotic conditions,” Dr Firdausi said. “We were able to prevent a major, major epidemic and deaths.”
Successes like this have helped fuel new optimism in the fight against cholera.